Seattle hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis released a new song today, their first since 2012 blockbuster The Heist. "Growing Up" is not being marketed as a lead single for any upcoming project; according to the pair's publicist, it's "a personal moment of expression" from rapper Ben Haggerty and producer Lewis. (The chorus is sung by Ed Sheeran.)
"Growing Up" does sound personal, in ways both poignant and perplexing. It's an ode to Haggerty's then-unborn child, with verses written addressing the baby as a girl and then boy. (Haggerty and his wife Tricia Davis did not know the baby's sex before the birth — Davis gave birth to a girl in May of this year.) Production-wise, it's on the subtle side, with simple percussion, guitar and piano accompanying Haggerty's voice for most of the track. And about that voice — more than any prior release, "Growing Up" sounds like Ben Haggerty more than it sounds like platinum-selling rapper Macklemore. His verses are slow and conversational, his voice is rough around the edges. This Macklemore bears little resemblance to the whirling dervish of swagger, gangle, and unadulterated energy that raised the ceiling in his 2012 Tiny Desk Concert.
Lyrically, "Growing Up" is perhaps more revealing than it even set out to be. It's simple, direct, and emotive, a trifecta that made "Same Love" resonate so spectacularly. Also like past Macklemore singles, though, its being simple and emotive will inevitably strike some as saccharine and occasionally tone-deaf. For example, it's hard to ignore the stark differences between Macklemore's message to his daughter as opposed to his son. One gets told to read books, give back to the community, and grow up strong, and the other gets told to cheat in calculus, jay walk, go sledding, and step quietly when sneaking a girl home after prom. Notably, it's the girl that is told Mack probably won't be home much, as he's got "a world to sing to / and you at the same time;" whereas the boy gets no explanation of his dad's presence or absence. (Haggerty's ease of assumption that he'll travel to do his vital work and his wife will stay home and child-rear is another topic still.)
It's possible to be many things at once, and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are no strangers to that configuration. "Growing Up" can be both wise and immature. It can have real love and intention, and get caught in real and damaging gendered double standards. Haggerty's lyrics are about parenthood changing him, but the title is equally fitting for his and Lewis' evolution as global figures. Are they as grown as they'll ever be, or are they still growing up?